Space Grant Consortium wants to boost student numbers

Fellowship Bridge Program offers student researchers out-of-this-world experience

Student volunteer Alexis Nice prepares to step into a spacesuit inside UND’s BiPed Laboratory. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

One transfer student to the University of North Dakota studied metformin levels in soybeans. Another put North Dakota on the map by curating its historical connections to the famed Apollo 11 moon landing.

And now a third is researching NASA’s next-generation spacesuit to see if it’s got the right stuff for top astronaut performance.

All of the research made possible by the Fellowship Bridge Program is impressive, and that’s why Marissa Saad says there should be more of it.

The deputy director of the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium says the federal research money offers great support and opportunities for all North Dakota students.

“We’re excited to see as many students as possible benefit and grow from it,” Saad said. “The whole purpose of the program is to offer them that hands-on, experiential learning. They get to step away from the textbooks and regular classroom to get that authentic research and real-world experience.”

Plus, it’s a double bonus: Students get the chance to make some fascinating discoveries while faculty researchers get valuable assistance without spending a dime of their departmental budget.

Jesse Rhoades, associate professor of kinesiology at UND’s College of Education & Human Development, makes adjustments on the spacesuit before the cameras roll. The work is part of a federal grant studying upper mobility acceleration and range of motion for NASA’s next-generation spacesuits. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

A little history

The North Dakota Space Grant Consortium, with offices headquartered at UND, is just one of 52 organizations that make up NASA’s National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program. Since its inception in 1989, the national network of colleges and universities — along with its affiliates in industry, museums, science centers and state and local agencies — has worked to expand opportunities for Americans to understand and participate in NASA’s aeronautics and space projects by supporting science and engineering education, research and public outreach.

A major part of that mission includes scholarships and fellowships to students pursuing research or careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Saad said the consortium’s separate semester-based Student Fellowship is probably more widely known at UND, but the Bridge Fellowship is unique in that it’s designed for transfer students or students who’ve already earned an undergraduate degree and are starting a higher degree program. It has a more flexible timetable and a rolling application deadline on the first day of every month.

Unlike the traditional fellowship, students are not required to do research 15 hours a week. Though the hourly stipend is still $15, there’s no maximum or minimum time commitment. Instead, the student and mentor work out a plan together, Saad said.

“The Bridge Fellowship is specifically tailored for the transferring student or a student who’s in a new environment,” Saad explained. “Research shows that transfer students or students in a brand-new program can be more at risk of dropping out or less likely to seek out research opportunities.

“This program is meant to be super flexible. It allows them to get familiar with a new campus, new laboratories and new faculty. We hope to increase retention by fostering those positive research experiences for students in a new setting.”

Students are paired with a mentor, but Saad stressed their research project does not need to be directly related to their major. In fact, it’s common for students to collaborate across disciplines.

Students come from everywhere, including space studies, engineering, physics and astrophysics, aviation and kinesiology. There are surprisingly few limits, Saad said. The only requirement is that the research support the broad mission of NASA or the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium.

Furthermore, applicants are not expected to come in with a big thesis or research proposal. This is entry-level research, Saad said, and the faculty mentors are key to the program’s success.

“It’s just awesome. All of these faculty advocates go out of their way to take a student under their wings and give them that real-world experience,” she said. “The students learn how to think critically, how to work together, do interdisciplinary collaboration, create reports and present their findings. All of these research projects are practice for the real world, so when they graduate, they’re ready to hit the ground running.”

What you need to know

Saad said students with little or no research experience are encouraged to apply. Prospective applicants should go to UND’s Fellowship Bridge Program homepage to find an application form, get application guidance and learn more about matching with a mentor.

For questions, Saad can be reached at 701.777.4164 or msaad@space.edu. The main telephone number for the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium is 701.777.6819.

  • Only U.S. citizens are eligible, and students must have earned an associate degree or higher — with at least a 3.0 GPA — and be starting a new or advanced degree program at a North Dakota Space Grant Consortium-affiliated school.
  • 100% of the Bridge Fellowship funding goes directly to the students, who may spend it however they see fit.